US anti-bank protest case: mentioning the First Amendment not allowed during trial

(Surreal and more than a bit worrisome, RE: First Amendment. Hopefully more to situation than is being currently reported.)

“Jeff Olson, California Man, Faces 13 Years In Jail For Writing Anti-Big Bank Messages In Chalk”

Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old man from San Diego, Calif., will face jail time for charges stemming from anti-big bank messages he scrawled in water-soluble chalk outside Bank of America branches last year.

The San Diego Reader reported Tuesday that a judge had decided to prohibit Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.”

With that ruling, Olson must now stand trial on 13 counts of vandalism, charges that together carry a potential 13-year jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.

“Oh my gosh,” Olson said on his way out of court on Tuesday. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

In an interview with San Diego’s KGTV, Olson maintained that “free speech is protected” and said he “was encouraging folks to close their accounts at big Wall Street banks to transfer their money local nonprofit, community credit unions.”

The Reader first broke news of the case over the weekend, reporting that Olson and his partner had been active in the campaign to encourage people to move their money as early as 2011. During one protest outside of a Bank of America branch, they drew the ire of Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who accused them of running a business with their demonstration.

Olson later began showing his opposition with chalk drawings outside various Bank of America branches. Security camera footage from the banks apparently recorded his actions, and he eventually got a call from San Diego’s Gang Unit in August 2012, when he gave up the artistic protests. The Reader reports that Freeman aggressively pressured city attorneys to bring charges against Olson until they announced that they would do so in April.

(Click over to the Reader for more on Olson’s back story.)

Olson told KGTV that one of the branches had claimed it cost them $6,000 to clean up the water-soluble chalk writing.

I’ve seen this done with obvious Second Amendment cases before. I never figured out why the judges were able to get away with it. Chalk it up to their little dictatorial powers inside the courtroom.

I’m pretty sure the jury has heard of the first amendment.

I think the issue here isn’t that he’s prohibited from expressing his opinions, it’s that he’s not allowed to deface other people’s property to do so. Sure, water-soluble chalk isn’t permanent, but it’s still a very different thing from carrying around a sign and protesting in front of the bank. Or renting a billboard to display his message.

For the record, I’m sympathetic to his ideas. I think the Daily Show’s recent segment on the difference between Canadian banks and US ones is germane.

Somehow, I doubt this survives appeal, even if he is convicted. Hopefully there’s a way to make BofA pay all the costs associated with the case on both sides.

13 years for vandalism?

And they say that money can’t buy everything.

And hey, it’s not like he held his boss hostage for four days for severance pay.

I’m guessing there’s a reference there to a story I haven’t read.

I only bank with local credit unions for all the reasons you might expect, so I’m sympathetic to Olson’s position. I’m not sympathetic to his vandalism, and criminal charges are warranted. However, prohibiting his defense from invoking the first amendment is ridiculous. It’s the prosecution’s responsibility to point out the differences between free speech and vandalism, hardly a difficult feat.

I’m guessing that was the judicial reasoning. That the judge felt the jury was dumb enough not to understand the distinction. Since the first amendment is so well known, I think it’s poor reasoning - if he felt that way, better to have the issue in the open so they can discuss the distinction, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

So if a gang member writes his gang name on the sidewalk that’s free speech? Why is this guy’s message protected and not the gang member’s? I think he’s just a vandal who thinks he came up with a clever excuse.

Dude in China, I’m assuming. Been held hostage by his workers or something or other.

No, it wouldn’t work at all in court. Or at least it shouldn’t. Of course the electorate and thus jurors probably don’t know much about the Constitution these days, so maybe the judge was just heading that line of bullshit off at the pass. I could see some lawyer trying to convince a jury that it was a First Amendment issue and succeeding, though that doesn’t say much for the prosecution if they pulled it off.

He was found not guilty on all charges.

While I’m glad they didn’t throw the entire book at him, I think he should have been found guilty of some relatively minor charge and forced to pay a moderate fine or do community service. Politically motivated vandalism whose underlying sentiment I agree with is vandalism nonetheless.

I agree with this. How does having a political message, valid or otherwise, entitle you to vandalise property?

LOL it was chalk. Seriously?

I have a feeling that even if he was convicted on all charges, he would have gotten, at worst, community service and a fine. With no previous convictions, the graffiti not being associated with gang enhancement, and the “cost of cleanup” being less than $400, the sentencing is typically very light.

California rarely sentences vandals to jail time for misdemeanors.

The cost of cleanup is wait for it to rain. If you are saying that BoA made it rain for less than $400, I think I know a few rappers that would like to have a word with you.

Also, I subscribe to a certain school of, “if you want to go around acting like some kind of fucking asshole and somebody sorts you out or takes you down a notch then don’t come crying to me,” thought.

FYI, he wrote on the sidewalk. Unless you want people to prosecute and ticket your daughters next time they want to play hopscotch, you need to not support assinine abuses of power in this specific circumstance. If you want to blur the lines between writing in chalk on the ground and etching profanity in acid on the side of buildings, by all means, go with that. I agree that shit should be stupid, too. Let’s just let shit be stupid. All around, just idiotic shit. Prosecuting someone for writing in chalk on the ground, spending the government’s money, which is your money, using police officers, the subpoena power, throwing together a goddamn jury, for a guy drawing on the ground with some fucking chalk, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I think the only way this could be better is if while this is going on, the banks that almost destroyed the global economy should be getting free money and none of them should get in trouble, even though we have proof that they entered into conspiracies to manipulate markets using fraudulent representations.

So yeah, better go after the motherfucker with the chalk! Can’t let society collapse, which it totally will, if we let hippies go around getting loose with their chalk slogans!

For fuck’s sake, people. A trial? Community service?

What he was doing was community service.

Imagine an ex of yours writing a whole bunch of embarassing personal items about yourself (for the sake of argument, pretend there are a few) on your sidewalk, on your property in chalk, and pointing them out to everybody who walked by. You may recognize she has a right to be a jerk and spill all of your secrets, but to also use your own property to do it without your permission? That’s where it crosses the line.

edit - Of note, I also think it’s quite ridiculous that it got to this point, but I blame the bank and not the prosecutor.

How about don’t be such a flaming piece of shit that the people you fuck feel the need to tell the whole neighborhood how you measure up to an asshole full of broken glass?